One of the highlights of working for Homebuilding & Renovating is visiting self builders and the new homes they have created. Following a quick house tour and a coffee, conversation often turns to construction: what build system was chosen and why?

On a recent trip to Bedfordshire to meet second-time self builders George and Sue Davies (a very knowledgeable couple to boot), the answer was SIPs (structural insulated panels), and for good reason.

The couple discovered SIPs by happy coincidence: “We were looking for a way to construct the 15m rear garage wall, which adjoins our neighbour’s boundary, which would result in minimal inconvenience and disruption,” George explains. “Brainstorming how to achieve this we came across SIPs construction. SIPs would allow the rear wall to be built and rendered out of position, and craned into its final place.”

Choosing a build system – whether opting for masonry, timber frame or a system such as SIPs, ICF (insulated concrete formwork) or oak frame – is one of key decisions made when self building a home. The decision brings with it a whole host of implications when it comes to wall thickness, achieving an airtight and energy-efficient home, speed of construction, budget… need I go on. And in the case of some build systems, notably oak frame, it informs the entire design process.

For George and Sue, the benefits of SIPs were numerous: “We realised that SIPs construction would provide us with exceptional airtightness and several other desirable features: a high level of insulation; vaulted ceilings upstairs, providing a light and airy feel; and speedy construction building the shell,” says George.

Another positive on this project was the comparatively minimal wall thickness achieved using this build system — this allowed the couple to maximise internal floor space within their new home, which is positioned on a narrow plot.

After researching different suppliers, the couple opted for SIPs@Clay, who provided the best price for their project and came with a few other advantages, according to George: “We choose SIPs@Clays as they use the Kingspan TEK building system; the product is BBA approved, and provides a standard panel thickness (not all companies do), which was what we wanted.”

The shell of the building was erected in just three weeks. (See below.)

The only drawback that the couple have encountered thus far came at the end of the self build process: “What we found surprisingly hard was getting house insurance for a home built in SIPs. Many insurance companies will only insure on homes with walls constructed in masonry or stone, with roofing materials of slate and tile.” Materials falling outside this description may be considered ‘non-standard’ construction.

Read George and Sue’s blog on the build here.

SIPs delivered to self build site

The SIPs panels arrive on site

SIPs erected on site with internal walls built

The panels are swiftly erected; the internal walls begin to take shape

SIPs gable end erected complete with window opening

The front gable end, complete with opening for glazing, is erected

SIPs roof craned into position
Close-up of SIPs vaulted roof

The SIPs panels for the roof are carefully craned into position

S-garage wall erected and house covered with breathable membrane

The huge 15m rear garage wall is positioned in place. Due to the close proximity of this wall to the boundary, render was applied prior to installation. The SIPs panels for the main house are wrapped in a breather membrane

SIPs house rendered in lime

The house is lime rendered

SIPs self build with sedum roof

The finished self build — complete with sedum roof to the garage

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